Best Cell Phone Coverage

What’s the point of a cell phone if you can’t use it? We dig into the carriers that are least likely to drop your calls so you can pick up the phone.
  • Best Overall
    4.5 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review
  • 2nd place
    4 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review
  • 3rd place
    4 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review
  • 4th place
    3 out of 5 overall
    View PlansRead full review

Words like “coverage” and “reliability” get thrown around a lot, but when put to the test, Verizon’s the best provider for getting all the calls, texts, and data you need for daily life and special treks whether you’re in the city or rural areas.

AT&T and T-Mobile put up a good fight for the next spot, but AT&T’s better for rural areas; if that’s not a problem for you city folk, then you may prefer T-Mobile’s faster speeds. Sprint rounds off our list, but it may be the best option for someone looking for a less expensive way to get wireless coverage nationwide, especially in cities.1,2

Cell phone provider plans

PlanSingle line cost*Best forLearn more
Verizon Above Unlimited$95/mo.OverallSee plan
AT&T Unlimited &More Premium$80/mo.TV bundlingSee plan
T-Mobile ONE Plus$80/mo.Fast speedsSee plan
Sprint Unlimited Basic$60/mo.ValueSee plan
Project Fi$80/mo.Real-time coverageSee plan
Tracfone 2 GB plan$50 for 90 daysCasual usersSee plan
MetroPCS Unlimited$60/mo.Prepaid plansSee plan
Cricket 2 GB$30/mo.BudgetSee plan

* Prices include autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included unless otherwise noted.

But what does coverage mean for you? You won’t miss calls from the veterinarian with the results of your dog’s surgery. You’ll have data on road trips when you need an emergency “Despacito” karaoke session. And, perhaps more importantly, you won’t go into panic mode in front of your friends because a 10-second YouTube clip takes five minutes to load.

1. Verizon—Best overall

Verizon’s coverage is virtually everywhere from horizon to horizon.

Verizon has not only the best 4G LTE coverage in all 50 states, but it’s also consistently fast, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding tonight’s restaurant, uploading Instagram stories, or using Google to win an argument.3,4

We can’t promise you won’t run into any dead spots, but you’re a lot less likely to encounter problems pretty much anywhere you go.

Verizon unlimited plans and pricing

Number of linesGo UnlimitedBeyond UnlimitedAbove Unlimited
1$75/mo.$75/mo.$95/mo.
2$130/mo.$160/mo.$180/mo.
3$150/mo.$180/mo.$210/mo.
See planSee planSee plan

* Prices include autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included. Up to 10 lines available. 

Verizon is typically more expensive than the other three big carriers, but to those seeking the best coverage, it may be worth the extra $5 to $20 to ensure their call will go through. And although Verizon has a $30 activation fee, it’s not quite as pricey as AT&T’s $45 activation fee. All in all, we’d say Verizon is worth the price.

Who is Verizon best for?

Verizon is best for these types of users:

  • Those concerned about rural coverage
  • Business travelers
  • Rural, suburban, and city users alike

Check out Verizon’s availability map for yourself. Or, if you want more information about Verizon, read our full review.

verizon coverage map

Photo: verizonwireless.com12

2. AT&T Wireless—Decent coverage, good perks

AT&T’s coverage is solid, and it’s a less expensive option with decent TV benefits included.

ATT Logo

AT&T isn’t far behind Verizon in terms of coverage, but it doesn’t quite beat T-Mobile for speed.5,6 Here’s a good way to think of it: AT&T will cover you most of the time and you’ll pay slightly less than with Verizon.

Plus, AT&T does have perks for TV users, which can save you a ton on services you may already be paying for. And if you’re not currently using them, you may want to be: they’re a nice bonus you can turn to in times of boredom on the train.

AT&T unlimited plans and pricing

Number of linesUnlimited &MoreUnlimited &More Premium
1$70/mo.$80/mo.
2$125/mo.$150/mo.
3$145/mo.$170/mo.
See planSee plan

* Prices include autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included. Up to 10 lines available. 

Who is AT&T best for?

AT&T is best for these types of users:

  • TV fans
  • Those who don’t want to pay Verizon’s price, but still need similar coverage
  • Some rural users, but mostly suburban and city users

Most of the country is covered, but you should still look at AT&T’s coverage map. For a better idea of AT&T’s cell phone plans, read our full review.

AT&T data coverage map

Photo: att.com13

3. T-Mobile—Fastest speeds

Straightforward pricing and fast speeds make T-Mobile a less-expensive, good option for cell phone coverage.

T-Mobile’s coverage might not get you through some of the more rural parts of the country, but for the most part, you’ll enjoy fast speeds for a reasonable price. (It’s ranked second fastest, right behind Verizon.)7,8 T-Mobile doesn’t throttle your speeds until after you use 50 GB of data, meaning you’ll be able to load maps across the country faster or just download that playlist quicker.

While we’d still say AT&T offers slightly better perks and coverage, T-Mobile gives it a good run for its money by including Netflix with unlimited plans over two lines, mobile hotspot data, and in-flight Wi-Fi on GoGo®-enabled flights.

T-Mobile unlimited plans and pricing

Number of linesONEONE Plus
1$70/mo.$80/mo.
2$120/mo.$140/mo.
3$140/mo.$170/mo.
See planSee plan

* Prices include autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included. Up to 10 lines available. 

Who is T-Mobile best for?

T-Mobile is best for these types of users:

  • Suburban and city dwellers (rural areas may experience more outages)
  • People who want fast speeds
  • People who want or need 50 GB of unthrottled data

T-Mobile should work for most people outside of rural areas, but you can see for yourself on the coverage map. Or if you’d like to dig into T-Mobile’s cell phone benefits, read our full review.

t-mobile coverage map

Photo: tmobile.com14

4. Sprint—Best on a budget

Sprint’s cheap prices may be just what you need—but its coverage, speed, and performance is lacking.

sprint logo

Sprint has some of the best prices for cell phone plans, and they’re better now that the Unlimited Plus plan also gets you Hulu and TIDAL bundled in. That can save you about $20 per month, which translates to 240 bucks a year.

TV, music, and cell phone service on the cheap is a good way to go, especially for people trying to consolidate their finances to save up for cars, houses, and Elon Musk’s flamethrowers.

Sprint unlimited plans and pricing

Number of linesUnlimited Basic
1$50/mo.
2$80/mo.
3$90/mo.
See plan

* Prices include autopay, paperless billing, and multi-line discounts where applicable. Taxes and fees not included. Up to 10 lines available. 

Who is Sprint best for?

Sprint is best for these types of users:

  • Those who don’t need maximum coverage and want to save
  • City folks and those in surrounding areas
  • More budget-minded users

You can make sure Sprint covers your area here. And if you want to dig in a little deeper, you can read our full Sprint review.

Photo: sprint.com15

Additional cell phone carrier options

If one four largest providers aren’t cutting it for you, find a carrier that does. 

Additional carriers and networks they use

CarrierNetworks usedDetails
Project FiAT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Wi-FiSee plan
TracFoneVerizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and SprintSee plan
CricketAT&TSee plan
MetroPCST-MobileSee plan

If these four options have burned you in the past and you want to try something totally new, consider one of these other providers. These companies often use the Big Four’s cell towers, so you’ll generally still have good coverage, but you’ll be dealing with a different company and what it has to offer.

Methodology

The why and how behind our ranking system.

We went straight to the source for coverage maps with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and the other carriers. These interactive maps should give you a great idea of your local and travel coverage, but if you want to get more into the nitty-gritty details, we recommend checking out the studies from both sources.

In one study, Verizon took first, followed closely by AT&T. Another reported T-Mobile’s service as being the most excellent in terms of speeds and availability with Verizon not much farther behind. 9,10

We consider 4G LTE to be the standard for speed, especially with 5G rolling out in the next few years.

We consider 4G LTE to be the standard for speed, especially with 5G rolling out in the next few years. But it’s worth noting that AT&T has the best 3G coverage, meaning you might not always get the fastest service, but you may be covered more consistently.11

Based on findings from third-party studies, brand coverage maps, and customer feedback, though, Verizon’s a good bet for coverage across the US.

Why coverage matters

If you don’t have service where you live or spend your time, a highly touted plan doesn’t matter.

If New York City has perfect coverage, it doesn’t matter much to the folks in Durango, Colorado. We can’t stress this enough: Check coverage maps for the places you need service the most.

Where do you need voice and data coverage?

Basically, the better the coverage nationwide, the less you’ll have to think about if you have coverage or not. While most matters aren’t life or death, the last thing we want to worry about is whether or not our call will even go through.

  • Home: Even if you have a home phone, you don’t want to rely strictly on it or Wi-Fi in your house to get timely or important messages to your cell phone.
  • Work: Yeah, you shouldn’t be browsing memes at work, but you also don’t want to miss calls forty hours out of the week.
  • School: Need to email a professor asking for an extension? They won’t like it if you blame your tardy turn-ins on your cell phone.
  • Commute: What’s better than listening to podcasts about conspiracy theories or murder? Nothing, so you need coverage even on the road.
  • Restaurants: Eat more downtown than out in the country? Or do you regularly take drives into the mountains for dinner with a view?
  • Nightlife: Don’t drink and drive—make sure you can call a Lyft at 2 a.m. from your local watering holes and dance clubs. You don’t want to walk miles in those heels at the end of a long night of getting jiggy with it.
  • Outdoor excursions: You ever been stuck on a mountain without service? You need coverage there too—not only so you can upload your epic selfie, but also because it’s much safer having backup.
  • Family in other areas: You may have great coverage at your home, but if you’re visiting Aunt Tina while she’s hosting a BBQ in the country, you may want to have the kids pick up some extra moist towelettes before they arrive. (Trust us, they are a must.)
  • Business travel: Having no service when you’re in airplane mode is one thing, but you don’t want to lose out on a new deal because you can’t Facetime with a client.

Recap—When coverage matters, price is less of a priority

When it comes to coverage, you pay for what you get. 

Picking the best coverage provider, Verizon, means coping with their higher-than-average price. In other words, you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for. Conversely, Sprint offers a good deal on its unlimited plans, which include TV and music subscriptions bundled in.

While better network coverage is one of most people’s top considerations for switching, money is still a strong factor. If you’re mostly connected to Wi-Fi throughout your day or you just don’t use your phone that much, then it’s less important to get the best coverage, but it’s still something to think about.

How has your experience been with these providers? Any horror stories or tales of redemption? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources

1.   OpenSignal.com, “State of Mobile Networks
2.   RootMetrics, “RootMetrics
3.   OpenSignal.com, “State of Mobile Networks
4.   RootMetrics, “RootMetrics
5.   OpenSignal.com, “State of Mobile Networks
6.   RootMetrics, “RootMetrics
7.   OpenSignal.com, “State of Mobile Networks
8.   RootMetrics, “RootMetrics
9.   OpenSignal.com, “State of Mobile Networks
10.   RootMetrics, “RootMetrics
11.    Whistleout.com “AT&T Coverage Map
12.   Verizon, “Better Matters
13.   AT&T, “Wireless Coverage Map
14.   T-Mobile, “4G LTE Coverage Map
15.   Sprint, “Sprint – Nationwide Coverage